This is the reason why some people are at a greater suicide risk than others

Updated on:2 December 2019, 13:35pm IST
Team Health Shots
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Alterations in the brain play a big role in suicide risk. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Every 40 seconds, someone succumbs to suicide globally. Shocking, isn’t it? The numbers are even more disturbing in India, which has the highest suicide rate in South-East Asia.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death the world over among the Gen Z and millennial members of population. And this mental health condition beats physical ailments like cancer, birth defects, lung diseases, and heart disease to the curb in terms of fatality.

Yet, unlike the physical afflictions we listed above, what happens the inside the brain of someone who is vulnerable is a medical mystery.

Thankfully, it seems that researchers aren’t too far behind in this pursuit as a study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry seems to have identified
the key networks within the brain that foster a person to commit suicide.

“Imagine having a disease that we knew killed almost a million people a year, a quarter of them before the age of thirty, and yet we knew nothing about why some individuals are more vulnerable to this disease,” says the first author of the study, Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen from the University of Cambridge.

“This is where we are with suicide. We know very little about what’s happening in the brain, why there are sex differences, and what makes young people especially vulnerable to suicide,” she adds.

Alterations in the brain chemistry in areas that regulate emotion and decision making are to blame
The team of researchers reviewed two decades’ worth of scientific literature relating to brain imaging studies of suicidal thoughts and behaviour. They then
looked for evidence of structural, functional, and molecular alterations in the brain that could increase the risk of suicide.

As a result, they identified two brain networks that make some people more prone to committing suicide.

suicide risk brain
Brain networks in the prefrontal cortex are responsible for a greater suicide risk. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

The first of these networks involve areas towards the front of the brain, known as the medial and lateral ventral prefrontal cortex and their connections to other brain regions involved in emotion. Alterations in this network may lead to excessive negative thoughts and difficulties regulating emotions, stimulating thoughts of suicide.

The second network involves regions known as the dorsal prefrontal cortex and inferior frontal gyrus system. Alterations in this network may influence suicide attempt, in part, due to its role in decision making, generating alternative solutions to problems, and controlling behaviour.

Why is this study important?
Imagine that you’re sick and exhibiting symptoms like nausea, fever, and body pain. Maybe you’ll take a paracetamol to help tame the symptoms, but when you visit the doctor–s/he is going to call for blood tests to ascertain what the problem is before giving you antibiotics.

In the case of suicide, there are no brain testing parameters that can help identify vulnerability or risk. Mental health practitioners often look at symptoms and/or previous suicide attempts to diagnose and treat patients.

Also read: Understanding depression: What you need to know about an afflicted loved one

So, this promising revelation brings with it the hope of finding better treatments and therapies that can reduce the risk of suicide at a structural level.

With inputs from ANI

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